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Archive for 2011

GHS Guide to Soil and Soil Testing, Part 1

October 1st, 2011

Did you know that fall is the best time to test your soil? Test results are affected by the bacterial action in the soil, and during summer and fall, the levels of bacterial action are optimal for getting an accurate reading.

However, experienced gardeners prefer to test in the fall because they can fertilize their soil based on the test results, and then, whatever they add to the soil will have time to set over the winter. By testing in the fall and then fertilizing based on the results, your garden will be in the best possible shape when the spring growing season rolls around.

There are two tests that are important to do annually: a pH test to determine whether your soil is alkaline or acid and to what degree, and a nutritive test to evaluate how rich your soil is in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N, P, and K). We'll talk first about the pH test, because it's the most important.

pH Testing

Plants grow best within a specific pH range. Most plants like slightly acidic soil; others need a greater degree of acidity, and some prefer alkaline soil. What this means in a practical sense is that when you give your plants the right pH, they will best be able to absorb nutrients in the soil. The right pH will also make your plants less susceptible to plant diseases and fungi.

Many of our soil test kits come with a chart that tells you exactly what pH different plants need, or you can find one in most gardening books.

Once you have your pH results, you can then amend your soil accordingly. Adding lime is the usual way to make your soil less acidic. Wood ashes mixed into soil will also help to lessen its acidity. Just be sure to use ashes from untreated wood, and keep them dry until you apply them.

Add sulfur, aluminum sulfate, or gypsum to make soil more acidic. Organic soil amendments such as sphagnum peat moss, oak leaves, coffee grounds, and well-composted sawdust also help to make soil more acidic.

Some fertilizers have an acidifying effect, enabling you to take care of your plants' nutritive needs while lowering the pH a little. Look for a fertilizer designed for acid-loving plants such as Espoma's legendary Holly Tone.

Keep in mind, though, that it can take several years to change the fundamental pH of your soil. You don't want to go too fast: no more than 1 pH degree per year. And you'll want to test each year, until you see that your soil has really settled into being the pH that you want it to be.

Nutritive Test

You'll also want to do an annual nutritive test to determine how much nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N, P, and K) are present in your soil.

If you live near a Cooperative Extension, give them a call: they can do soil testing that will test for other nutrients also, for no more than ten dollars, and carry out the analysis using equipment that is too costly even for most farmers. They also have the expertise to interpret the test results, and can advise you as to how to best address whatever issues show up in them.

That said, do-it-yourself soil testing is more economical than ever. In fact, a Rapitest Model 1609CS contains 4 pH and 2 NPK tests. Though not as accurate as the professional tests, the do-it-yourself tests are more convenient and certainly work well enough to get a valid estimate.

Another advantage of the do-it-yourself tests is that they make it easy to retest after you've added fertilizer or other amendments. The Rapitest Electronic Soil Tester, Model 1860 does both NPK and pH in less than a minute, and you can stick it in different spots around your garden to customize your amendment strategy. A week or two after amending your soil, take a stroll around to the same spots to see if the NPK and pH levels are where you want them.

One of our previous newsletters, Choosing a Fertilizer,  will help you determine which fertilizer is best for your needs. But don't wait 'til spring. seize the season!

Also read our Guide to Soil Testing Part 2 and Guide to Soil Testing Part 3 for information about two simple tests you can do yourself at no cost that will yield valuable information about the composition of your soil. And we'll talk about what to do if your soil is lacking in organic matter, doesn’t drain well, contains too much clay, is highly compacted, or has other problems related to its composition.

Until then, happy growing from Garden Harvest Supply!

What are Worm Castings?

September 17th, 2011

Since we have started offering worm castings on our site, I don't think a day goes by that someone is not asking, What are worm castings?

The simple answer is that it is worm poop. Also called worm manure, worm humus or worm compost, this amazingly rich soil amendment and fertilizer is becoming more popular than ever, and for good reason. Word of mouth has spread the good news and as more and more people plant gardens and become ever more aware of the harm that pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can cause, the use of worm castings has increased dramatically with sometimes astounding results. Most people are very pleasantly surprised when they open their first container of worm castings. The odor is pleasantly earthy, it is dry, not moist at all, and the texture will be similar to a good soil/peat mixture. You don't have to wear gloves to handle it, nor do you have to wear a mask or use in a well-ventilated area. Worm castings are 100% organic, 100% safe for the planet, you and your family and are 100% beneficial.

Worm castings are created by feeding a particular type of worm a variety of organic materials. The worms most often used are Red Wigglers (Eisenia foetida) and one other type of red worm (Lumbricus rubellus). These worms are a top-dweller/feeder, which simply means that as you add organic material they will move to the top to eat it. They are also able to withstand the high temperatures needed for the best composting results and they are prolific breeders. These are not the earth worms that you go fishing with, though I'm sure that any hungry fish would not turn its nose up at them.

The act of worm composting is called vermicomposting. Vermicompost is a verb, not a noun. Home vermicomposters will normally use garden and kitchen refuse of the organic variety, such as fruit and vegetable peels and rinds, leaves and grass clippings. You can also use coffee grounds, right along with the filters, moldy bread, tea bags; anything but dairy products or meat, which can rot and attract unwanted pests. Cooked foods that are oily or on which butter has been utilized is also not recommended. It is true that the worms will eventually be able to break down these items too, but it takes longer and the benefits are not worth the smell or the mess.

So, why do worm castings work so much better than other fertilizers, organic or not? Well, all soil and food has microbial activity. Microorganisms are a critical part of our own lives, as they are of every living thing. Worm castings have 10 to 20 times as much of that microbial activity as the soil and food that they eat. As the organic materials go in one end and out the other, it is mixed with worm mucus, which helps the soil to hold onto the nutrients, rather than having it washed away with watering, and also enables the soil to retain more moisture. When used by farmers or in your backyard garden plot, or even as a top dressing on your lawn, they also attract even more earthworms, which also serves to improve the quality of your soil. Just using worm castings once starts a healthy cycle of soil enrichment and plant health.

The reason that worm castings are so much more beneficial that soluble plant fertilizers is because the nutrients that are stored in the microbial rich organic matter and in the bodies of the microbes is not lost through the process of irrigation, ending up in the ground water. Fungal tentacles, called hyphae that are about the size of a very thin strand of hair, wrap around organic matter and soil particles when searching for food. These form aggregates (a material or structure formed from a loosely compacted mass of fragments or particles) that are the very basis for quality soil structure.

But, to answer the question, What are worm castings?, a picture, or two, is well worth a thousand words. We have a customer who bought her first bag of worm castings and decided to share her results, through pictures. She was given some peat-potted cuttings of a white flowered, unidentified perennial. Rather than plant them right into the ground, she chose to pot them first, to see what kind of plant they were. Out of the six plants, only three of them appeared healthy. The others were quite wilted, meaning they were loosely and limply hanging over the edges of their peat pots, with little sign of life, except that they were still green, though quite sickly looking. She decided to plant them anyway and mixed the worm castings with the old potting soil that she had on hand. She also chose to keep them inside until they were well established, as her area of the country was experiencing extremely hot temperatures.

worm casting in a planterThis is the first day, right after planting. As you can see, there are two very upright plants in each planter with another barely upright plant on the left side of the left planter. On the back side of the left planter, and on the back and right side of the right-hand planter, are the three dead plants.

 

 

 

 

worm castings for flowersThis is the left hand planter on the third day, with the plant on the left standing more upright and the plant in the back showing signs of life, to include new growth at the top.

 

 

 

 

 

hanging basket with worm castingsAnd this is the right hand planter on the third day, with the plant on the right really starting to perk up, at which point our customer is convinced that there is no help for the last of the 6 plants on the back side of the planter. It still hasn't turned brown, but there is little sign of life and no new growthyet.

 

 

 

 

flowers grown with wormcastingsAnd then this is that same right hand planter five days later, just 8 days after they were planted. She turned the planter around in order to get a better view, but the position on the tabletop has not changed, as you can tell by the curtains behind.

 

 

 

 

 

worm castings with hanging basketsFinally, 6 healthy plants that will be kept in pots until they can be identified and our customer can decide where in her yard she wants their permanent home to be.

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for the great advertising!

What are worm castings? I hope that I have answered your questions. We have built our business on the belief that having a good relationship with our customers is tantamount to having a successful business. Articles like these are just one way that we pass along our knowledge and expertise, free of charge. Customers like the lady above are why we keep on doing it!

Happy Gardening Everyone!

How Can I Use Epson Salt

September 2nd, 2011

I have heard about using epsom salt for bell peppers to help them grow. I wish to know more about this natural mineral & peppers. Thank you, Gale

Answer: Epsom salt is a good source for the trace nutrients magnesium and sulfur. Late in the season tomatoes and pepper plants may start to show signs of deficiencies, such as leaves yellowing between the veins and a decrease in fruit production. This looks similar to blight, but blight will appear as blotchy brown spots on the leaves and stems. Be sure to confirm which it is.

Before randomly adding nutrients it’s always best to obtain a soil test to evaluate the levels of trace minerals in your growing area. Too high a level of calcium will inhibit the plants’ uptake of magnesium, and depending on your soil type you might require more than just what one nutrient can add.

Best advice is to watch your plants toward the end of the growing season. If they start to show yellowing leaves and you’ve ruled out other diseases, you could try adding a tablespoon of epsom salt around the base of the plant, making sure to water it in well. Some report that peppers are heavy magnesium feeders so this could be the reason for the use of epsom salts. Some also suggest starting the treatment at first bloom to thwart the late season deficiency.

Happy gardening,
Karen

Hydrangea Plant Not Growing Well?

August 28th, 2011

I have hydrangeas which are in pots outside but the flowers have died and the leaves are green and look healthy. Would they survive being planted out in the back yard? Some of my neighbors have large hydrangea plants in their yards. Second question – will a kalanchoe plant (in a pot) grow if I plant it in my flower bed? Thank you.I have hydrangeas which are in pots outside but the flowers have died and the leaves are green and look healthy. Would they survive being planted out in the back yard? Some of my neighbors have large hydrangea plants in their yards. Second question – will a kalanchoe plant (in a pot) grow if I plant it in my flower bed? Thank you, Phyllis

Answer:

Phyllis,

You did not specify what variety you were growing: quercifolia, macrophylla, arborescens or paniculata. Most hydrangeas are hardy from Zone 5 to 9, with a few being even more cold hardy. Since you are in Zone 9B, the hydrangeas will do OK for you in the ground, but you are on the high end of the their tolerance range. If others are growing them successfully then you should be able to as well, if you give them the right conditions. Check the ones that are the most successful and see how much shade or sun they are receiving, and how much moisture they are getting. If you are growing the macrophylla (mophead) variety, then you will probably want to check the acidity level of your soil if you want them to be blue. Typically hydrangeas like some shade from the hot midday sun. They are heavy drinkers (of water, please!) and need soil acidification if your pH is too low. Even though you are in a warm climate, they will still most likely have a resting period, like the dormancy they undergo in colder climates. Don’t push them if that is the case.

The kalanchoe is technically a hardiness Zone 10.  Since you are 9B, you might try to find a well-protected area to see if it will survive. Keep it protected from any frost and keep it in a partially shaded location; it is not a full sun lover.

Happy Gardening!
Karen

Invasion of the Squash Vine Borer

August 25th, 2011

You might have fallen victim to the Squash Vine Borer, without knowing how they get inside your squash plants, or where they come from. You might not have even been aware they are there until your vines have wilted and died. The Squash Vine Borer attacks cucumbers, gourds, pumpkins, melons and both winter and summer squashes. Blue and Butternut squash seem to be the most resistant, but Hubbard squash seems to be the castle most preferred by this voracious pest.

Recognizing the Squash Vine Borer Moth

So, how do you identify the problem to begin with? The best way is to be aware of what to look for. As your squash-like plants are just about to blossom, you may notice wasps flying around your vegetable garden, paying particular attention to your squash, melons or cucumbers. Look closely; these wasps may actually be the moth that lays the eggs of the squash vine borer. They will look somewhat like a giant hornet, having a wing span of about 1.5 inches. The wings will be translucent, but colored in shades of orange and black. These female moths will have a bright orange or red and black abdomen and femurs. They can be quite elusive, prefer daytime flight, are rather noisy and will lay their eggs at the base of your plants, right on the soil. In the south, this will usually occur sometime in April or May, but it may happen later in the north, normally in June and July. The eggs will be flat, brown circles about 1/10 inch across and nearly impossible to see.

The Destructive Squash Vine Borer Larvae

In one to two weeks, depending upon the heat and weather, the eggs will hatch and become larvae. The larvae are grub-like, about an inch long, white with a dark brown head and itty bitty brown legs. They bore into the stems of your plants and are gluttonous eaters, which is what ultimately kills your plants. Inspect the stems about an inch above the soil level for tiny holes through which the larvae have entered. You may even see a yellowish saw-dust looking material near the hole or at the base of your plants. You can confirm their presence further by using a knife to make a slit lengthwise along the stem, from the bore hole and about an inch up. You will see the worm and more of the yellowish excrement inside the stem. At this point you can kill the worms with the knife blade and then mound soil up above the wound to encourage root growth along that particular section of the stem. Be aware though, that this method will only work at the very earliest stages of infestation and can be quite time-consuming and messy.

Perpetuating Their Life Cycle

Once the larvae have matured, they can leave the insides of your plants' stems and start feasting on the maturing fruit. They will finally mature to the point where they leave the plant, burrow into the soil and spin a mahogany brown cocoon in which to hibernate until the following spring when the orange, red and black moths will appear once again.

Control with Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth

Now, how do you control them? I'm sure you've heard the old saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; and in this case, that is SO true. Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is one of the best preventive measures. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a naturally occurring, organic pesticide in dust form that cuts the exoskeletons of the moths, both as they emerge from the soil and as they land to lay their eggs. A little goes a long, long way and it is easy to apply, especially if using a duster designed for DE, but the best part is that Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth will also deter and destroy a whole host of other garden pests with absolutely no ill-effects on your family, your pets or the environment. Dust with DE from the ground up, paying special attention to the undersides of the leaves, as this is where most insects will lay their eggs. Application is recommended once a month or after a very heavy rain, but as long as dust is evident at the base of the plants and under the leaves, you do not have to reapply heavily.

Deterring with a Plant & Seed Blanket

If, on the other hand, you've never had Squash Vine Borers in your garden, you may be able to get away with a simple cover. There are a number available, but the one that seems to work best is the Plant & Seed Blanket by Easy Gardener®. This lightweight, breathable blanket can be applied when you seed or first transplant seedlings. It allows essential air and moisture to reach your growing plants, but will prevent the Squash Borer moth from being able to lay her eggs. Just apply the blanket over your seed bed or transplants with plenty of slack to allow for plant growth and blooming. The ends and sides can be held down with garden stakes or with loose soil. Once the blossoms have wilted, giving way to the fruit, it should be safe to remove the plant and seed blanket.

Use Hot Pepper Wax Spray to Make Their Lives Miserable

Another preventative measure that is used very successfully is Hot Pepper Wax Spray. Made by combining capsaicin (what makes cayenne peppers hot) and a thin, food grade paraffin, the spray coats your plants with an unpleasantly irritating liquid that stays in place by being bound to the waxy paraffin. Apply to the bottom couple of inches of the stems to prevent the larvae from boring as they hatch, or apply to the whole plant, including the undersides of the leaves, to also deter aphids, spider mites, whiteflies, lace bugs, leafhoppers, thrips and many more pests. Be aware though, that when checking growth progress, weeding or harvesting your produce, the capsaicin can transfer to your skin and be quite irritating, especially if you have open wounds or you rub your eyes. It will sting, but warm water will wash the residue away. Young children who put their hands in their mouths will also experience an unpleasant heat.

Kill Them with BT

Finally, for the very worst infestations and to completely prevent the larvae from spinning cocoons that will produce Squash Vine Borer moths next year, we recommend using Bacillus Thuringiensis, a.k.a. BT. BT occurs naturally and is a soil-borne organism that has the ability to control squash vine borers and other insects that are in the worm or caterpillar stage of development. It can be applied to the foliage of plants on which larvae are feeding, but it can also be used as an injection to the insides of the stems to destroy the borers. Bacillus Thuringiensis effectively paralyzes the digestive tract of the larvae, which means they can't feed anymore, which causes them to die. BT is effectively used as a pre-emptive measure, when injected into your plants right after the first blossoms appear and then again in a week to 10 days. You simply mix it as you normally would for external application, and then use a disposable syringe that you can buy at any drug store. You can also use a wood worker's glue injector, but be sure to rinse the needle with a mixture of chlorine bleach and water between injections in order to prevent possible cross-contamination of other diseases that you are not yet aware of. Mix the BT just prior to use and inject the stem about 1.5″ above the soil line. The borers will eat it as they first start to feed, causing them to die. The recommended amount is about 1cc of BT for each injection. It will wash the hollow interior of the stem, but will flow back out of the stem through the injection site if you use too much.

We here at Garden Harvest Supply hope that we've provided you some much needed, valuable information about Squash Vine Borers and how best to deal with them. We are always available to answer any of your questions and concerns. You can contact us here, or contact our Master Gardener directly.

Happy Gardening, Everyone!

GHS Guide to Extending the Growing Season

August 20th, 2011

Wouldn't it be great if your garden were like a 24/7 farmer's market, providing you with fresh produce year-round? Sure, that would take a lot of work, but extended harvests are within every gardener's grasp. With a little planning, you can harvest at least one or two crops right through the winter.

In this newsletter we'll discuss ways to extend the growing season, starting with a review of fall planting and continuing with to how to cover and protect your plants in cold weather. Finally we'll discuss measures that serious gardeners take to ensure year-long harvests, such as the use of cold frames and greenhouses.

Late Season Planting

The simplest way to extend the growing season is to plant a second round of vegetable plants in late summer or early fall. Fall is an easier time to plant than spring: the critters and weeds decrease, there's less need to irrigate, and there are no heat waves to drive you indoors, panting.

There's also less prep work involved; consult our Guide to Fall Vegetable Planting for the details, but basically what you need to do is clear out the old debris and amend the soil.

In choosing what to plant, most gardeners like a mix of plants with varying degrees of hardiness. Tender and very tender plants need to mature before the first frost or else they'll be damaged.  Semi-hardy plants can weather a frost or two, and hardy plants can weather repeated frosts.

To plant tender and very tender plants, you have to find out what date they need to be planted by in order to mature before the first frost.  First find their growing times by looking at the product details section of the GHS web pages that describe them. Then find the approximate first frost date by looking at the Frost Chart at the Old Farmer's Almanac. Count backwards from the first frost date to determine your deadline for getting those plants into the ground.

With semi-hardy vegetables, you don't need to be concerned about the first frost date but you'll want them to mature before repeated frosts occur. Again, compare the growing times with the first frost date, and make your selection based on what will be ready soon after that first frost.

When planting hardy veggies, you don't need to worry about the cold weather at all. Just get them in the ground and mark on your calendar when they'll be ready to harvest.

Help Them Make It Through the Night

When temperatures drop, most plants need to be covered. Coverings also help them grow faster in the colder weather. Some gardeners simply throw old bed sheets or towels over their less hardy plants when the nightly news predicts a cold snap. To improve on this method, support such materials with stakes or wire. Individual plants can be protected with buckets or gallon milk jugs with the bottoms cut out. Put them on in the afternoon while it's still relatively warm and remove them in the morning after temperatures have risen again. Root crops can be covered with a thick layer of hay, straw, dry leaves, or pine needles.

We sell several products that have been engineered to provide optimal cold-weather protection. The most popular is the Wall O' Water Plant Protector, which is like a plant-sized teepee whose insulating walls can be filled up with water. The Wall O' Water absorbs heat during the day and releases it during the night, keeping your plants comfy on chilly nights. In fact, it will protect them down to 16°F!

For larger plants as well as sensitive shrubs, our Plant Protector Bags are great at keeping in the heat while still allowing for air circulation. Simply bag the plants when they are at risk, and remove as soon as the danger is past. The Fleece Frost Protection Bags offer even more of a defense against cold, maintaining your plants down to 20F. And for even larger plants, shrubs, and seedlings, use the 8'x 6' Harvest Guard Plant Protection Bag with an adjustable closure for a custom fit.

If you have many plants to protect, Haxnicks Easy Tunnel Row Cover is the way to grow. It offers shelter to an entire row, forming a barrier that retains humidity and warmth, while protecting against frosts and harsh weather. Made of polyethylene supported by galvanized steel hoops, you'll get years of use out of it, and the hoops can be stacked against each other for easy storage.

Cold Frames

A more solid way to protect your plants is by building a cold frame, which is like a mini greenhouse. You can get instructions on how to build and use cold frames from the extensions of Cornell University, the University of Missouri and Ohio State University. There are also do-it-yourself videos available on YouTube.

If you want to save time and don't want to search for materials, we sell a Cold Frame Mini-Greenhouse kit that is easily assembled and provides more than 5 sq. feet of growing space. Constructed of durable, UV-protected panels, the adjustable polycarbonate roof provides maximum light, adequate ventilation, UV protection, and easy access.

Its older brother is also on sale: the Cold Frame Double Mini-Greenhouse, which is the same design but twice the size. Measuring 41 x 41 x 21, it provides ample space to grow and protect at least 10 sq. feet of veggies.

Greenhouses

Serious gardeners will want to build or buy a greenhouse sooner or later. Actually, sooner is better, because you'll get so much benefit from a greenhouse that whenever you get one, you'll wish you had gotten it sooner!

Naturally, building a greenhouse is more involved than building a cold frame. If you're up for a project of this size, instructions and plans are available from West Virginia University Extension as well as from North Carolina State University Extension.

If you'd rather get a greenhouse kit, be sure that the kit itself isn't too difficult to assemble. As we said in 2009, the last time we had a greenhouse sale, The gardening blogosphere resounds with little yelps of frustration from people whose jubilant smile turned to a grimace worthy of a gremlin as they realizedafter bolting and unbolting, starting and stopping, moving forward and backtrackingthat ‘the instructions are rubbish.'

To spare our customers this kind of frustration, we sell only Snap & Grow Greenhouse kits made by Poly-Tex, a family-run business located in Castle Rock, MN. What we like about their greenhouses is that the parts snap together with SmartLockâ„¢ Connectors, a unique system that makes Snap & Grow kits the quickest and simplest on the market.

The other great benefit is that you're not limited to the greenhouse you started withyou can expand it whenever you desire, thanks again to those SmartLockâ„¢ Connectors. What's more, Poly-Tex produces a full range of accessories: automatic vent openers, shade kits, even plant hangers.

As with many of the best greenhouses, the greenhouse panels are made of polycarbonate, a polymer that is as clear as glass but offers 100% UV protection and is virtually unbreakable. The heavy-duty frame is molded out of corrosion-resistant aluminum, and the kit includes an innovative split-style door and window, both of which come pre-assembled, right down to the attached weather stripping.

If you've been thinking about getting a greenhouse, we know you'll love the advantages of Snap & Grow, and we hope you'll carefully consider each of the five models we offer, and perhaps give us a call at 1-888-907-4769 to discuss which one would best meet your needs. Just think: you can keep gardening all winter, and have as much space as you want to do it in!

Always More to Grow and Know

To learn more about extending the growing season, there is one book we particularly recommend: Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch. This book has gotten rave reviews from beginning gardeners and veterans alike. It gathers together a wealth of information and presents it in a really fun and interesting way. The authors' enthusiasm for gardening really shines through as well, and you might find your own gardening spark rekindled as you hang out with the authors by reading this refreshing and informative book.

That's all for now. Happy Growing from all of us at Garden Harvest Supply!

What Does A Tomato Horn Worm Look Like?

August 2nd, 2011

tomato horn worm on a tomato plantThe tomato horn worm is the biggest pest your tomato plants will have. You will know one has moved onto one of your plants when you notice leaves being eaten off of the stems.  They will also eat into the side of your tomatoes. Tomato horn worms have large appetites.  It will not take too many days before you will see the damage they create. Once you see the signs, start looking very carefully on the bottom of each leaf stem until you spot the worm.

After you hand remove the horn worm, kill it by cutting it in half. You can smash it; just beware that it will make a bit of a mess this way.

tomato horn worm with parasitic eggs on its back

If you find a worm that has white sacks hanging onto its back, do NOT remove it! Leave it right where it is on your tomato plant. The white sacks are the eggs of the parasitic wasp, one of nature's beneficial insects. These eggs survive by sucking the life out of the horn worm. Once these eggs hatch, the wasp will go out looking for more horn worms to lay eggs into and kill.

 

Blossom-End Rot How to Recognize and Prevent It

July 25th, 2011

tomato plant with blossom end rotYou’ve heard about blossom-end rot, but have you seen it? Or, maybe you’ve experienced it and didn’t know what it was. Hopefully this article will arm you against one of the most common tomato diseases, and you may be able to prevent it from happening, even though the most experienced gardeners have seen it on their tomato plants. (It also occurs on pepper plants and on eggplant, though it may start on the sides, near the blossom end, on these vegetables.)

First, you need to be able to identify it, and the name itself creates no small bit of confusion, especially for novice gardeners. The blossom end of the tomato is so-called because as the tomato grows, it actually emerges from under where the blossom was. The fruit grows between the calyx and the blossom, the calyx being the modified leaves you see at the top of the tomato. You will see the brown end of the blossom at the bottom of the growing tomato, not at the top where it is attached to the stem.

Blossom-end rot will start as a small beige or tan patch on the blossom end of the tomato while the fruit is still green, often appearing water-soaked. And then it becomes sunken and turns leathery and dark brown or black as the fruit matures. It looks rather disgusting, but you can eat the parts of the tomato that are not affected, as long as no secondary pathogens or pests have invaded the lesion and spread throughout the rest of the fruit. In severe cases, the whole fruit is a loss and it is not uncommon to lose 50 percent of the fruit on your tomato plants to this curse. I wouldn’t recommend giving these unattractive fruits away, even if the upper part of the tomato is edible. Better to use them in salsa, make tomato sauce, or at least slice them before anyone can see what they look likediscarding the rotted portion, of course.

To prevent a disease, you need to know what causes it. Blossom-end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency, which affects normal cell growth. Blossom-end rot results when the demand for calcium exceeds the supply, which can be caused by

  • Moisture fluctuation, which can reduce a plant’s calcium uptake.
  • Low calcium levels in the soil, often the result of improper soil pH.
  • Drought stress.
  • Over fertilizing with nitrogen-based fertilizers.

and which can be prevented by:

  • Tomato Grower's Soil Test KitMaintaining the pH of your soil right around 6.5. An inexpensive soil tester can quickly give you the pH of your soil, and then you can take the necessary steps to adjust it. This is not only good for preventing blossom-end rot; it is beneficial to the majority of your garden plants. 6.5 is the recommended soil pH for successful organic gardening.
  • Maintaining consistent moisture for your tomato plants. All garden plants require about one inch of moisture per week. If you are fortunate enough to have plenty of rainfall, this will not be an issue, unless you are getting way too much. Otherwise, irrigation is necessary, and I recommend a drip irrigation hose. A drip irrigation hose ensures that the moisture is going to the roots where it is needed, not landing on the leaves (especially in a crowded garden) and then evaporating.
  • Avoiding nitrogen-based fertilizers as your tomato plants start to fruit. There are actually two kinds of nitrogen fertilizer available. Nitrate nitrogen is preferable to ammoniac forms. Excess ammonium ions can reduce the calcium uptake of your plants. All nitrogen fertilizers should be used lightly and with the knowledge that the run-off from synthetic fertilizers can pollute water sources, including wells and ground water and are not entirely safe for use around your family, children and pets.
  • Ensure adequate calcium levels in your soil. Applying lime to your soil is one way to add calcium, but it will also lower the pH. This would be the ideal solution if you also need to adjust your pH down. Additionally, you can use a product, such as Nutri-Cal® Liquid Calcium supplement. Highly concentrated, it is applied in a fine spray every couple of weeks, though root absorption of calcium will be the most beneficial. Some gardeners crush egg shells and mix it into the top inch or so of soil, right around their plants, experiencing quite a bit of success, though the exact amount of egg shell needed is not really known.
  • Using good, rich soil is the ultimate way to prevent blossom-end rot from occurring. Soil rich in organic matter is naturally rich in calcium, and is also much more able to retain moisture, which means maintaining your soil’s moisture content is much easier. You can mix compost into your soil prior to planting or you can even top-dress your soil and as you water and cultivate, the compost will become mixed with your soil. Worm Castings are also a source of the richest organic matter and can either be mixed in, top dressed or side dressed.Earthworm Castings

These are fairly easy steps to making sure that all of your garden plants grow healthy and strong. Good gardening habits go a long way to ensuring not only a productive harvest, but less effort on your part, in the long run. In particular, it will mean your tomatoes are not lost to blossom-end rot. We all know how scrumptious fresh, homegrown tomatoes are. A few extra preventive measures will make the difference between a modest tomato harvest and an extraordinary one!

Happy Gardening Everyone!

Kale Juice – Some Real “Great Stuff!”

July 22nd, 2011

My son Jim  ordered 10 Blue Curled Scotch Kale Plants for me, his mother. I am 91 1/2 years old and for many years I have had a backyard garden where I grow tomatoes, beans, peas, celery, peppers, parsley and kale. In addition to eating all the vegetables I also juice. That’s where kale comes in. I have a wonderful juicer which Jim gave me, and I drink some juice every day. My mix for the juice is:

  • Kale
  • Collards
  • Celery
  • Parsley
  • Other “greens”
  • Oranges, apples, grapes or other fruit for sweetness

This is “great” stuff!

I thank you for being so careful with my Blue Curled Scotch kale. It arrived in perfect condition because of your expert means of packaging – great stuff!

For some reason I have trouble finding kale plants each year for my garden. I even have neighbors driving around various nurseries for me. This was a particularly bad year. So, I am very appreciative of your speed and efficiency in getting this kale to me.

“Old ladies do go on” but I want you to know the value of juicing each day to the human body. Last year I overheard a voice in my next door yard. It was a young worker building a wall. He said to one of his associates “how tired he was.” At the time I was ‘juicing’ and I took a fresh juice glass to him for energy. He asked first “what was in it” and I told him. Then he drank it down, one half hour later he came back to me to again ask me what was in my juice. I repeated it all to him. Then he said “you put a kick in this stuff didn’t you?” I assured him the “kick” came from the veggies, etc in the drink. He said he felt “a kick” in the mix. Hooray kale!

Thank you again for your care!

Dorothy G.

“Incredible Delicious!”

July 18th, 2011

Garden Harvest Supply vegetable plantsI am very pleased using Garden Harvest as my main source for all my vegetable plants. All my plants came very well packed and shipped in a timely manor. I am so amazed to watch their growth. Ears of corn looks so tempting to pick now, but when they are ready, can’t wait to say Incredible Delicious…..thanks Tina for going the extra mile.

Lawrence J.

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